New York Court Discusses Enforcement of Custody Agreements

Pursuant to New York law, parties in custody actions may enter into stipulations setting forth terms defining custody and child support rights, and the courts will generally affirm such agreements if they are in the best interest of the children in question. Essentially, the court-approved agreements in custody actions are contracts and will be interpreted and enforced as such. That does not mean that the terms of such agreement cannot be modified by the court, however, as demonstrated in a recent New York ruling issued in a custody matter. If you are engaged in a custody dispute, it is advisable to consult a skilled New York family law attorney to discuss your rights.

The Background of the Case

It is reported that the parties married in 2002 and had two children together. The wife filed an action for divorce in New York in 2012. The husband insisted that any divorce take place in France, however, where the parties previously lived, and in April 2013, the District Court of Paris entered a judgment of divorce stating the parties were to exercise joint parental authority and deemed the wife’s home as the children’s usual residence. The judgment also granted the father parental access and ordered him to pay child support.

It is alleged that in March 2016, the parties entered into a stipulation regarding custody that stated, in part, that they had joint legal custody of the children. The stipulation also granted the mother primary residential custody and the father parental access. Further, it provided that the parties were to work with a parent coordinator and that, barring an emergency, neither party should return to court without first consulting the coordinator. In June 2018, the wife filed a motion to modify the stipulation and certain aspects of the divorce judgment. The court then issued an order directing a hearing to aid in the disposition of the motion, noting that while the parties were required to use a parent coordinator, such use was of no help. The husband appealed.

Enforcement and Modification of Child Custody Agreements

Under New York law, stipulations entered into by parties in a matrimonial action are contracts subject to the principles of contract interpretation. Thus, when a stipulation is clear and unambiguous on its face, the parties’ intent must be derived from the four corners of the agreement and not extrinsic evidence.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the stipulation clearly provided that the parties were to work with a parent coordinator and consult the coordinator before returning to court, barring an emergency. Contrary to the husband’s assertion that the wife failed to comply with the terms of the stipulation, the appellate court noted that the parties engaged in the process of parent coordination for five months to no avail. Further, in light of the disputed allegations with regard to the right to parenting time and the wife’s participation in parent coordination, the appellate court determined that it was appropriate to order a hearing to resolve the matter. Thus, the trial court’s order was affirmed.

Meet with an Experienced New York Family Law Attorney

Parties that co-parent can enter into agreements regarding child custody and support, and if the courts approve such agreements, they will be binding and enforceable. If you need assistance protecting or defining your custody rights, it is smart to meet with an attorney as soon as possible. Ksenia Rudyuk is an experienced New York child custody lawyer with the skills and resources needed to help you seek a favorable outcome, and if you engage her services, she will advocate aggressively on your behalf. You can contact Ms. Rudyuk via the form online or at 212-706-2001 to set up a meeting.

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